As Tiger Woods walked onto the 18th green at the 2001 Masters, throngs of fans were in hot pursuit to catch a glimpse of the golfer and all cameras were pointed at the then 25-year-old, who was on the precipice of etching his name into golf history.
“Here comes the salute to an achievement that’s about to be completed unlike anything this sport has ever seen,” said CBS commentator Jim Nantz at the time.
After a grueling four days at Augusta National, Woods needed a two-putt to win his second Masters — of course, he rolled in a birdie for emphasis — and by doing so, became the first golfer ever to hold all four major titles at the same time.
Using his hat to fight back tears, Woods began showing slight cracks in his usually stoic facade as his momentous achievement was sinking in.
Meanwhile, a relieved and ecstatic Earl and Kultida Woods were waiting to hug their son as he made his way off the iconic 18th green at Augusta National.
And so was born the “Tiger Slam.”
While not the more traditional “grand slam” in golf — holding all titles in the same calendar year — the “Tiger Slam” comprised winning the last three majors in 2000 and then the Masters in 2001.
At the time, Woods — a child prodigy and seemingly always destined to be a star — was playing at a level far above all of his competitors, and beyond being the most identifiable Black player in the golf world, he was arguably the most recognizable name in sport across the globe. According to Forbes, Woods has made $1.4 billion since turning pro in 1996.
Yet for the young man from California, none of that seemed to matter.
“It’s an eerie calmness. I’ve succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish,” he said in his 2001 Masters coronation ceremony.
The 1964 U.S. Open winner Ken Venturi was more emphatic in analyzing Woods’ achievement.
“I think it’s the greatest feat I’ve ever known in all of sports.”
Blowing away the competition
In June 2000, Woods was already a two-time major winner.
In 1997, he became the youngest Masters champion for his debut major victory, finishing 12 strokes ahead of Tom Kite — the margin of victory is still the largest in the tournament’s history — before winning his second at the PGA Championship in 1999.
He seemed to be the most famous person on the planet and couldn’t go anywhere on the course without a throng of fans or photographers documenting his every move.
However, as a child star and under his father’s unrelenting guidance — in particular in relation to the racism he could face — Woods had learned how to put up walls to mitigate against the outside noise and pressure, according to Jeff Benedict, co-author of the biography on Woods, which formed the basis of last year’s HBO documentary.
“His father had truly been a victim of racism on a more intimate scale than Tiger,” Benedict told CNN Sport. “Earl Woods experienced racism at each step of his life. … And he was schooled by his father about racism. And for his dad, I think the racial implications of Tiger’s achievements were very important.
“All of [the media] was focusing on the racial angle of what Tiger was doing. When there’s that much saturation coverage, it’s impossible to ignore it, especially when you are the center of it.
“But I think part of what makes his achievement so otherworldly is that he did it in the midst of all of this other external pressure that none of the other golfers that he was competing against had to deal with.”
Not that you’d have noticed that Woods appeared to be under any undue pressure. He dominated from start to finish at the 2000 U.S. Open, securing a remarkable 15-stroke win, the largest margin of victory in a major championship in golf history.
Woods looked at ease at the notoriously-difficult Pebble Beach course as his performance sent out an ominous message to his rivals.